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Blake sets up Nieminen Stockholm title clash

Defending champion James Blake stretched his winning streak at the Stockholm Open to nine matches.

india Updated: Oct 14, 2006 22:49 IST
Scott Williams (AFP)
Scott Williams (AFP)

Defending champion James Blake stretched his winning streak at the Stockholm Open to nine matches on Saturday to set up a title showdown with Finland's Jarkko Nieminen.

American second seed Blake downed home favourite Robin Soderling with a 7-5, 7-6 (7/4) victory while Nieminen, the fifth seed, ended the dream run of another Swede Joachim Johansson with a 7-6 (10/8), 6-7 (5/7), 6-3 win.

Blake beat Nieminen in the Bangkok quarter-finals last month on his way to the title. He also beat the Finn at Miami in March and Long Island in 2003.

"We've always had close matches," said the American.

"Jarkko's had a lot of good wins. He puts things together in perspective, he doesn't get too excited or depressed either way.

"He keeps an even keel. That's when you play your best, when you play as yourself."

Blake, bidding for a personal-best fifth title of the season, took just under 90 minutes to dismiss Soderling, the eighth seed.

"He played great and made me come with my best tennis," said Blake after the pair's first career meeting.

"I knew he had a big serve but I didn't realize that his ground strokes were so heavy.

"I thought that he'd want to rally more, but he was going for his shots. Good things happen when you stay positive and that's what I did."

Blake has produced a spotless record at the semi-final stage in 2006, winning all seven that he's played.

His four titles trail only Roger Federer on nine and Rafael Nadal with five.

Blake currently stands sixth in the points race for next month's Masters Cup in Shanghai, but for him to add to his points total in the season chase, he must win the title.

"It would be great to make it, but the Masters is not something I thought about at the start of the season," said Blake.

"But it's on people's minds now. I hope I'll have chances to make it over many more years to go, so I'm not worrying too much about the possibility.

"I just want to keep improving my tennis and I think I've done that already this year."

Nieminen made his title breakthrough in January when he won in Auckland.

But his run to the last four here was his first semi-final since July in Bastaad, Sweden, on clay.

Johansson, who put out world number two and top seed Nadal in the first-round, is still feeling his way back after a year dogged by shoulder surgery and other injuries.

After levelling the match against Nieminen, the Swede ranked 690, was unable to subdue his fellow Nordic battler.

First Published: Oct 14, 2006 22:15 IST